U.S. lawmakers Thursday expressed their concerns about the situation in Iraq to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during a full day of hearings before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. Their comments reflect declining support among the American people about the U.S. role in Iraq.
High among the lawmakers' concerns is an open-ended military commitment in Iraq.
The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, urged the Bush administration to consider linking its continued military involvement in Iraq to progress by the Iraqis on political and military self-sufficiency.
In making his appeal to Secretary Rumsfeld, Senator Levin said progress should include the adoption of a constitution. "I would hope, Mr. Secretary, you would pass along this suggestion that there be an explicit statement to the Iraqis that not only do we expect them to keep their timetable for adopting a constitution but that if they do not, that we would have to assess our position, not prejudging what we would do, but looking at all options including but limited to setting a timetable for withdrawal," he said.
"I am convinced that a political solution is the key to ending support for the insurgency," agreed Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, agreed:
At the same time, both Senators Collins and Levin oppose setting a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
Another Republican, Senator John McCain of Arizona, expressed concerns that U.S. troops are having to return to some Iraqi towns to fight insurgents a second time. "Too often we are seeing that we are going in to the same places in which we've been before," he said. "That means that we are not staying and clearing, as opposed to coming in and striking and leaving. Maybe it is the training of the Iraqi military that would help us, because clearly we do not have enough troops to do that."
Secretary Rumsfeld defended U.S. troop levels in Iraq, and said they are defeating insurgents.
The concerns expressed by lawmakers reflect waning support among the American people for the U.S. involvement in Iraq.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina fears that such declining support could force a premature withdrawal of American troops. "In the last year, sir, the public support in my state has turned, and I worry about that because that is the only way we are going to leave before we should, is that the public loses faith in us. I am here to tell you sir, that in the most patriotic state I can imagine, people are beginning to question, and I do no think it is a blip on the radar screen. I think we have a chronic problem on our hands," he said.
Secretary Rumsfeld said the administration is responding. "If you are facing a headwind, you have got two choices: you can turn around and go downwind, or you can stand there and go into the wind, and that is what needs to be done. We have got leadership in this country capable of doing that. Let there be no doubt," he said.
President Bush is scheduled to deliver an address to the American people next Tuesday, on the one year anniversary of the transfer of Iraqi sovereignty - a speech aimed at shoring up public support for continued military involvement in Iraq.